Setting The Tone – HB’s Round One Musings

There is something special about Round One, isn’t there?

You can feel it – the excitement, the buzz, the expectations… the hope. Every season, irrespective of the reality of the situation, your team enters the fray with a fresh set of goals and dreams. Will they be realised, or will they be dashed right before your eyes in game one of the new season?

We are just four sleeps away from the 2023 AFL season beginning, and I cannot remember a premiership race this wide open in a long while. Sure, there are the front-runners; Melbourne, Geelong, Sydney, Collingwood, Brisbane… they were all there when the whips were cracking, but from where I sit, there are ten teams that could realistically look at this season and think “we can win it all”.

In context, Round One means little more than any other round of the season – it’s four points, right? Yes, and no. It is also about setting the tone for your side’s season. A resounding win in the season opener can set you up for a huge year. A thrashing… and well, it can be difficult to climb out of a hole you dig for yourself so early in the piece.

So, rather than go in-depth with every game, let’s look at a snapshot from each contest to see what a win or a loss could mean to these teams as we kick things off.



I know a lot of people hate that this is the game to start the season, but this year, there is so much intrigue around these two sides.

The Blues choked in 2022. There is no nice way to say it – they were just about home and hosed as finalists and they flat-out choked. Maybe they just weren’t ready, or maybe… just maybe they’re not cut out for finals.

A new season, massive expectations, and a supporter base starved for success… this game means more to the Blues, as they will likely be jostling with the Tigers all season as they attempt to break their September drought.

As for the Tigers, a retooled and restructured midfield takes the heat off seasoned stars, with Tim Taranto and Jacob Hopper slotting in like a one-two-punch combination that could put a team flat on their back. With the Blues missing Sam Walsh, the Tigers smell blood and would be keen to once again establish a Round One win against the Blues as the status quo.

Ready for the headlines if the Blues lose. All the variations of promising the world and delivering an atlas you can think of.

And if the Tigers fall? Well, then the prophets of doom rear their ugly heads (and some of them are incredibly ugly) and tell you their efforts to recruit their way into contention were a mistake.



The champs versus the team that pushed them like no other in the finals.

Were the Pies a flash in the pan? Have the Cats given their all and will now fall back to the pack? What of Tm Hawkins’ absence? How do the Pies’ recruits change things? How do the new faces at Geelong slot in?

There are many stories within the story in this game, with Collingwood looking to reverse their Qualifying Final result that saw them fall a goal short. The average winning margin for the Cats in their other two finals was 75.5 points. The Pies were… right… there!

I got shot down over the preseason for stating just how much the Cats will miss Joel Selwood and the leadership he provides. I was told he is still around the club, still involved, and that’s lovely… but he won’t be on the park with this team, and when you lose that type of leadership, it does have an effect.

Still, the Cats are stacked all over the field. They have battle-hardened warriors – Stewart, Tuohy, Blicavs, Cameron, Smith, Guthrie… yes, not the most spritely in terms of age, but far out they smashed that argument out of the park in 2022, didn’t they?

The Pies play an irresistible style of footy. They take the game on. They dare their opponents to stop them. They take risks only a team with the utmost belief does. In Geelong, they meet their immovable object.

These teams are seasoned enough to know one loss matters little in the context of the season, but this game is more about whether the Cats can maintain that air of supremacy, or whether the plucky Magpies of 2022 can emerge as the wiser and more resilient challengers in 2023.

A marquee match-up on a Friday night to open the season for these teams… it does not get much bigger. Pumped for it!



Most people not supporting these teams will gloss over this game, as there is not too much expected of these teams in 2023, however, the old Mongrel loves to see where the sides are at, what changes are being made, and whether the off-season decisions by the clubs have been wise, or a little too hopeful.

North have their coach – Alastair Clarkson will likely use 2023 to assess his list and make changes, but one thing he will not accept is a team that does not compete at its absolute peak every minute of every game. I expect a more ferocious Kangaroos outfit on the field in 2023… perhaps a little bit of an “unsociable” one at times, and in taking on the Eagles, they have a chance to demonstrate to their new leader that they are up for the challenge.

As for the Eagles, they have some good kids pushing for selection to join a host of proven stars. Their preseason form was patchy, but they are such a damn proud club that anyone who expects them to accept mediocrity has simply not been paying attention.

On the road in Round One, there is nothing more the Eagles would like to do than prove reports of their imminent demise as a bit premature. Whilst a win over the Kangaroos would not be something to hang their hats on, doing it away from home would instil a sense of belief in this team. If the veterans find form… if the kids come on quickly… if they can string a few games together, you just don’t discount a fit West Coast team.



A massive encounter right off the bat.

Yes, the Power get this game at home, but the Lions are looming as a flag threat this season, and thoughts of last season’s 0-5 run must be haunting the thoughts of Port supporters. Their 2023 fixture is no picnic – Collingwood, The Showdown, Sydney, and the Dogs follow this one, and you’d better believe that if they drop game one at home, the voices spruiking 0-5 will start to gain voice again.

As for the Lions, it has been an off-season of positives and negatives. They have gained Jack Gunston to give them an incredibly intelligent forward, picked up ready-made Will Ashcroft, and power mid, Josh Dunkley, but lost key defender Marcus Adams to the long-term injury list, as he battles post-concussion issues.

It is the latter I worry most about, as Harris Andrews will need to be at All-Australian levels to counter his absence. The Port forwards will need to work together and space the defence, keeping Andrews occupied and exploiting the weakened Brisbane defence. Meanwhile, the midfield battle will see Lachie Neale get the help he requires from Dunkley to feed his forwards. And if that works, they could very well feast.

The Lions winning on the road is a huge story against a club looking to re-establish themselves as a force. But the Power knocking over the Lions… that starts the type of momentum the team was never able to generate in 2022.

If they do that, who knows what sort of effect it has on the next four weeks?



When we look at the last few years, this is a heavyweight clash.

The Dees, with a new two-headed ruck combination, front up to take on the Dogs, with their captain looking as though he is in the kind of condition that eluded him in 2022.

Melbourne have once again looked potent in the preseason, but will be very wary that they went too hard too early last season, running out of gas by the bye rounds. The Dogs never really got going, scraping into the finals, before collapsing in the second half of their elimination final against Fremantle.

Of the two teams, you’d think the Dogs have more to prove. They’ve lost Josh Dunkley, which on the surface, is a huge departure, but when you look at their setup, they are one of the very few teams in the game that could lose a player of his calibre and cover his absence. Their tall forward set-up looked potent in the preseason, which, funnily enough, is where the Dees actually fell down in 2022, as well.

The winner of this game walks away with the title of “contender” attached to their name right off the bat. Everyone is aware that these sides are high-quality units. Knocking them over at any stage of the season will be a tough ask, but getting one away early in the piece against one of the fancied clubs coming into the season… that is invaluable.

How do Tim English and Rory Lobb counter the Grundy/Gawn combination? Can the Dees’ tall forwards match the potency of the Dogs? Who stops the rampant Melbourne onballers? And can the Dogs crack the best defensive setup in the game?

This one is relegated to a Saturday night, but this is worthy of Friday Night Footy nine times out of ten.



Things to prove… things to prove.

Are Sydney going to drop their bundle? Are the Suns going to tease their suffering supporters with another “maybe” season, or will one of these two teams step up and dispel thoughts of them falling in a hole early in the piece.

For the Suns, this IS the make-or-break season. The troops are there, their big forward is healthy and now has support around him, and the kids are coming of age. No more excuses, no more “wait until this or that” – the time is now, and finals are the ONLY acceptable outcome for a team that has not delivered to this point for a number of reasons.

The Swans have much to prove, as well. After their Grand Final capitulation, they are hell-bent on not being the next vanquished challenger to fall into footy’s version of depression. Looking at their list, they are cherry ripe to be around the mark for years to come, so really, a loss here doesn’t mean much, right?


A loss here feeds the conversation that they have fallen in a heap. It gives critics ammunition. It casts doubt. The Swans have a chance to lay those opinions to rest in a huge way. They have a cast of thousands about twenty or so that are legitimate premiership-level players. This is the first step to achieving what they failed to do in 2022.



Two teams I expect to be a lot better this year, but one will be labelled a disappointment after just one clash. Kind of unfair, isn’t it? So is life, sadly.

GWS still possess enough top-end talent to make other teams blush and if they are able to get things together under Adam Kingsley, may give a few teams nightmares.

The Crows are coming off a stellar pre-season with a forward line that looks ready to obliterate any team that gives them any ounce of room to operate. I saw enough to think they will be the big improver this season, which is why this game is so important.

For Adelaide, their start to 2022 was promising, but they fell away after a few games that could have gone either way. Their ball movement in the preseason was quick and crisp, whilst they were able to defend and force their opponents out wide – it was impressive.

As for GWS, Kingsley has hinted at (and just stated) that the orange tsunami will be embraced more. It is a stretch to say that both these teams could press for the final place in the eight this season, but, strangely, it doesn’t seem too much of a stretch to think that one could. I like where they’re both at (which, I suppose, is 0-0 heading into the first game, so you’re not getting better at this stage, huh?) but the supporters are gonna like one of these teams a helluva lot more after Round One.

A win on the road for the Crows will have them up and about. A win for the Giants will instil belief. Whilst many don’t think this game has consequences over the entire season, I reckon it does. This could pave the early parts of the road back to finals for either team.



Two old rivals, getting to mix it up to open their seasons – you have to love it.

The Hawks have nothing to lose, here. Everyone, myself included, expects them to bomb in 2022. They are lacking genuine experience and leadership and without their best key forward and their most experienced overall forward (he is now in Brisbane), I am not sure the Hawks can kick a winning score.

So, in a way, there is no pressure on them.

Do the Bombers feel that pressure?

They might. They will be expecting to wipe the floor with the Hawks. And they should, too. However, expectations can become heavy pretty quickly and they wouldn’t be the first team to stumble and fall at the first hurdle.

A win over the Hawks, in the grand scheme of things in 2023, will not mean too much. I expect most teams to claim four points in this clash, but the Bombers need to get things started right. They need a big win to put the wind in their sails after a tumultuous off-season. Yes, it should be four points to them, but it means a hell of a lot more.



Freo were the Road Warrior team of 2022, winning more on the road and interstate than any other team in the caper. They have the chance to set that tone again, with a trip to Marvel to take on the depleted Saints.

A win for St Kilda here would give them the feeling that they can overcome. Many are writing them off, stating that they could be a bottom-four team, but to turn back Freo at the first challenge, suddenly that narrative changes and the heat goes onto the Dockers.

For Freo, this should be the year they solidify their status as contenders. A win on the road is EXACTLY what the team needs, after having their culture questioned (mainly by West Coast fans, after several players opted out of the club). With Nat Fyfe up forward and a fantastic young midfield, an “anyone, anywhere, anytime” mantra will be required again for the team that knows how to win on the road.


Again, I look forward to Round One every season. It is like a utopia for a footy fan after months stuck in the realm of “what ifs…” and possibilities. This coming week, we get answers. Sure, we get a hell of a lot more questions, as well, but finally, footy is genuinely back. The talking Is over, the siren sounds, the ball is bounced (straight, I hope) and the action is underway.

Welcome back, footy… I’ve missed you.


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